Independent Fisheries Science Panel studies “mortality rate” for gillnets

When setting fishing seasons, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife uses an Excel spreadsheet model that estimates the number of fish coming that year and subtracts from the estimate the number of fish needed to reach the spawning grounds commonly referred to as the “escapement goal”. The remainder of the fish are determined available for harvest by either recreational or commercial fishers in seasons set by WDFW.

WDFW has historically set commercial gillnet seasons by inserting a 45% mortality rate into the Excel model that then calculates that 55 the salmon caught and landed by the net (encounters) somehow survived after release to make it to the spawning grounds and spawn in a productive fashion. A large number of locals who witnessed the gillnets in action have challenged that percentage claiming these 55 “paper fish” may show up on a computer screen but they didn’t get to the spawning grounds to spawn as they were lying dead on the bottom of the bay or river.

In 2012, Advocacy founder Tim Hamilton filmed the gillnet fleet in action and created a documentary video that has been viewed by thousands of citizens not only in WA but across the globe. The “Chehalis Fling” video provides an explanation of selective fishing as its supposed to be practiced and then, the way it has been used in Grays Harbor and Willapa. The graphic footage shows fish species such as Chinook and Chum salmon being ripped from the nets by the gills and thrown overboard to waiting seals and crabs. You can view the video here.

The 2013 gillnet seasons in Grays Harbor and Willapa were challenged in court by the Advocacy’s founders and the issue of the controversial 45% headed the list of issues to be reviewed. The legal challenges were settled out of court and one of the conditions was WDFW and the Advocacy would jointly select a panel of experts to review the controversial mortality rate. The Department and all interested parties would provide the panel with literature, studies, and evidence for consideration following which the panel will then submit its written recommendations on the appropriate mortality rate to WDFW for use in setting future harvest seasons in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

The public workshop was held on February 26, 2014 in Olympia, WA. The Advocacy reviewed its presentation before the IFSP. The indepth presentation on the problems with selective fishing by gillnets featured individual topic comments from the Advocacy’s Technical Advisory Team (TAT) members and its Resources list that were attached as exhibits.  Representatives of the commercial gillnet fleet provided comments and testimony along with others from the general public.  The Department also presented a mirage of information and data to the Panel members.

On March 31, 2014, the IFSP issued its report recommending that the mortality rate historically used by the Department during Chinook and Chum seasons be replaced with a table of rates that were significantly higher than the 45% historically used by the Department.  The report is available for viewing here.

The Advocacy presentation and the exhibits are available below for viewing and downloading.


Advocacy Presentation


D. Hamilton, Broodstocking
F. Grygorcewicz, Certification
J. Sneva, Esq., Enforcement
L. Gee, Studies & Data Applicability
H. Michael, Professional Fisheries Management Principals